Kimchi: one of life’s great pleasures. Or, for you heathens, it’s probably considered the devil incarnate in food form.

For those of you who have come into contact with South Korea for even a micro-second will know exactly what I’m talking about, as kimchi is immodestly served with every meal. Yes, every meal – even breakfast (although – admittedly – I’m still quite happy with my Shreddies and semi-skimmed at 7am).

But for those that have unfortunately never had the opportunity to visit Korea, you may be wondering how this obscure-sounding foodstuff is responsible for such a strong divide in opinion. Perhaps one way to describe kimchi is by likening it to the brown, tar-like gloop known as Marmite, which is, for the record, similarly delicious (note to self: Marmite kimchi?). For the British folk out there, you know where I’m going with this – and for the rest of you, it’s pretty simple: you either love it or you hate it.

So what’s all the fuss about? Maybe a brief description will shine some light on the subject. Kimchi is, as one encyclopedia puts it, a ‘dish based on fermented cabbage with garlic, red peppers, and pimientos often with the addition of fish and other foods.’ Sounds disgusting, right? Why would you ever want to eat fermented cabbage…no, fermented anything, you say?

Well, good question I guess. But say what you want about it, as it most certainly tastes good – and perhaps not so unsurprisingly either. Koreans have, after all, had close to three millennia to perfect this rather unique art. The oldest reference to kimchi has been placed as far back as 2600 to 3000 years ago, and is believed to have originally been invented as a way of safely storing vegetables during the winter, while keeping them readily available for daily eating.

And it’s not just the taste that makes kimchi so great; research has been carried out to suggest kimchi can in fact reduce the risk of cancer, as well as help to fight against the avian flu. So at this point you may be wondering why the whole world hasn’t gone kimchi crazy.

Maybe it’s because Koreans want to keep kimchi their little secret. Or perhaps the rest of the world isn’t ready for slimy, fermented vegetables just quite yet.

Words by Sam Pryce. Check out his brilliantly titled blog for more on kimchi and Korea.

Images: Chilichincha and Closet Kitchen